“Men of small intelligence worship the demigods, and their fruits are limited and temporary. Those who worship the demigods go to the planets of the demigods, but My devotees ultimately reach My supreme planet.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 7.23)
अन्तवत्तु फलं तेषां तद्भवत्यल्पमेधसाम्।
देवान्देवयजो यान्ति मद्भक्ता यान्ति मामपि।।
antavattu phalaṃ teṣāṃ tadbhavatyalpamedhasām।
devāndevayajo yānti madbhaktā yānti māmapi।।
The living beings in this world are overcome by the dualities of attraction and aversion. Like and dislike. Attachment and hatred. They should stay above. There is discrimination, after all. There is rational thought, linked to sobriety.
इच्छाद्वेषसमुत्थेन द्वन्द्वमोहेन भारत।
सर्वभूतानि संमोहं सर्गे यान्ति परन्तप।।
icchādveṣasamutthena dvandvamohena bhārata।
sarvabhūtāni saṃmohaṃ sarge yānti parantapa।।
“O scion of Bharata [Arjuna], O conqueror of the foe, all living entities are born into delusion, overcome by the dualities of desire and hate.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 7.27)
In fact, the entire material existence features dualities. Different pairs of opposite conditions, which are always temporary in their duration. The pain and pleasure experienced are real, but since there is a finishing stage, a point at which the experience ends, a common comparison is to a dream.
To help in highlighting the relative nature of things, there are two Sanskrit words. They mean the opposite of each other, and they appear many times throughout Vedic literature.
1. Small and large
In the Ramayana of Valmiki, at one point a dedicated servant feels compelled to go above and beyond the call of duty. He has already done so much. Leaped over an ocean. Conquered formidable obstacles. Searched through a city of enemies undetected. Convinced a doubting person as to his authenticity.
He still wanted to do more. This is a byproduct of the bhakti spirit. While in the material world a person may grow sick and tired of having too much, wanting to reverse course and choose tyaga instead of bhoga. When serving the Supreme Personality of Godhead the bliss can only increase. The work is never finished.
Shri Hanuman proposed to take Sita Devi back with him to Shri Rama’s side. Sita and Rama. They are the same as Radha and Krishna, and Lakshmi and Narayana. There are two aspects to the personal side of the Divine, though combined into one. The feminine and the masculine. The energy and the energetic.
In Lanka many thousands of years ago the two were separated, though only to the eyes of the world. In consciousness Sita was always by the side of her husband Rama. When Hanuman arrived bearing news of her beloved, Sita took a liking to him specifically because he allowed her to be closer to her husband.
The Divine has the ability to transcend in this way. While saying the word “water” over and over will not automatically bring the liquid to the table next to which I am seated, repeating the holy name is the same as having God standing right next to you. For this reason devotees are known to chant such names, like those found in the maha-mantra: Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare.
कथं वाल्पशरीरस्त्वं मामितो नेतुमिच्छसि।
सकाशं मानवेन्द्रस्य भर्तुर्मे प्लवगर्षभ।।
kathaṃ vālpaśarīrastvaṃ māmito netumicchasi।
sakāśaṃ mānavendrasya bharturme plavagarṣabha।।
“O best of the monkeys, how do you desire to take me from here to the presence of my husband, the king of human beings, with such a small body?” (Sita Devi, Valmiki Ramayana, Sundara Kand, 37.30)
Sita thought Hanuman’s idea was a little far-fetched; ridiculous, in fact. She described him as having an alpa-sharira. This means “smallish body.” Alpa is often paired with su. In one context they mean small and large, respectively. Hanuman had indeed used a su-sharira to cross the ocean to reach Lanka. He had the ability to change his shape at will, so the su-sharira could actually become even larger if necessary.
2. Lesser and more
Alpa and su are used in the Bhagavad-gita to describe different levels of intelligence. Alpa-medhasam refers to having “less brain substance.” As an example, those with lower intelligence are known to worship the demigods, and the fruits of such worship are temporary in nature.
Not that the demigods are to be disrespected. They are divine figures, empowered by Sita-Rama to conduct important affairs in the material world. Yet a person who is intelligent, with more brain substance, su-medhasam, worships God directly. They don’t seek temporary rewards that only keep them bound to the cycle of birth and death.
3. Ugly and beautiful
The mother of Sita is Sunayana. One meaning to that name is “beautiful eyes.” Alpa would indicate lesser, and in the case of beauty the lack of it. Sugriva, the leader of the Vanaras of Kishkindha, has a name that means “beautiful neck.” Such judgments are certainly relative, but the comparison is made to give a contrast with objects and people which lack this characteristic.
Sometimes other prefixes are used, such as ku and dus, to pair as an opposite to su. As with the Sanskrit language itself, the ultimate purpose is to praise the Supreme Lord. He is supujita, or highly worshiped or highly honored. He has the highest brain substance, though such measurements are not even possible with Him. He has the most beautiful face, worshiped since time immemorial by those with the highest intelligence. In this age especially the fortunate ones, subhaga, stay connected to Him through harinama, not wasting the precious time they have in the auspicious human birth, sujata.
From Sanskrit prefixes aware,
Of opposite meaning pairs.
Su sometimes as prefix stating,
Like greater intelligence rating.
Alpa lesser to mean,
Like with animals seen.
Other cases large paired with small,
His Glorification ultimate purpose of all.
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